Patriots

Why believe Bill Belichick? The Mona Lisa Vito press conference

Why believe Bill Belichick? The Mona Lisa Vito press conference

So what, we’re supposed to believe that a guy in a New England Patriots shirt filming the sideline of an upcoming opponent from the press box wasn’t following explicit orders from Bill Belichick?

He was just innocently filming B-roll of the things an advance scout in the NFL looks at during a game, not there for something more … sinister? That if Bill Belichick had happened on the scene he would have tackled the guy rather than patted him on the head?

Well, yes.

And I’m basing a lot of that on Belichick’s response to a question about SpyGate that he answered during his epic "Mona Lisa Vito" press conference in early 2015, the day before the Patriots flew out to Arizona for Super Bowl 49.

The topic of the day was DeflateGate and Belichick — in a surreal 20 minutes — detailed how he’d run experiments to find how footballs lost air pressure and blah, blah, blah, see it all below.

But Belichick’s response to a question posed by Associated Press reporter Jimmy Golen about the videotaping scandal a decade earlier made everyone’s ears perk up.

"I mean, look, that's a whole other discussion," Belichick said. "The guy's giving signals out in front of 80,000 people, OK? So we filmed him taking signals out in front of 80,000 people, like there were a lot of other teams doing at that time, too. Forget about that. If we were wrong then, we've been disciplined for that. … The guy's in front of 80,000 people. 80,000 people saw it. Everybody [on the] sideline saw it. Everybody sees our guy in front of the 80,000 people. I mean, there he is. So, it was wrong, we were disciplined for it. That's it. We never did it again. We're never going to do it again and anything else that's close, we're not going to do, either."

There’s a lot of meat on the bone in that 120-word response — especially the sideswipe mention of a lot of other teams doing the same thing — but what I focus in on is the end of the statement.

“We never did it again. We're never going to do it again and anything else that's close, we're not going to do, either."

Taping opposing sidelines and deciphering hand signals was never, ever worth the time, effort, headache, scandal, fine, embarrassment and reputation stain it caused.

It just didn’t produce fruit. Belichick once told me, “If there were 100 things to do to get ready for a game, that stuff was about 99 on the list. It wasn’t a priority.”

So why did they do it? Because it was available intel that could be gathered. Before every game, you’ll see members of coaching staffs from both teams standing at the 50-yard line watching their opponents warm up. Staring. Gathering any last-minute intel on how injured players might be moving, which players are lining up where, anything. How much does it help? Probably not much. Why do it? Because it’s there.  

The idea that Belichick would stand at a podium, more than seven years removed from the day the Patriots had a videographer pinched on the Jets sideline and be that adamant, then four years later give the OK to have a guy in a Patriots shirt stand in a press box and film the sideline for team consumption?

Like nobody would notice? Like nobody would care? He’s smarter than that. I’m smarter than that. You’re smarter than that.

People will believe what they want to believe. The vast majority of football-watching America will believe the Patriots were cheating because that’s the narrative they’ve been fed for a decade and a half.

Anything requiring people with their minds made up to think critically about an allegation is going to be dismissed out of hand. That’s why this is swallowed whole and pooped out as truth the same way Mike Tomlin’s intimations the Patriots were jamming their headsets in early 2015 was accepted as truth and — after it was debunked by the NFL — left a dent.

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Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

Report: Raiders prepared to offer Tom Brady two-year, $60 million deal

We have an actual dollar figure attached to the swirling rumors of various Tom Brady free agency landing spots.

The Brady-to-Las Vegas speculation has been out there since TB12 was spotted chatting up Raiders owner Marc Davis at the Connor McGregor-Cowboy Cerrone fight in Vegas last month. Now, veteran NFL reporter Larry Fitzgerald Sr. (father of the Arizona Cardinals wide receiver) reports that Davis' Raiders are prepared to offer TB12 a two-year, $60 million deal.

It's interesting to note that Larry Fitzgerald Jr., like Brady, is a long-time interviewee of Jim Gray on Westwood One's broadcasts of Monday and Thursday night NFL games. 

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While Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported on Super Bowl Sunday that the Patriots are willing to go beyond $30 million a year to retain Brady, it's unclear if New England would make a multi-year offer, since the face of the franchise, who'll turn 43 in August, essentially worked under a one-year deal this past season. 

Our Tom Curran has reported that while the Patriots will "extend themselves" financially to retain Brady, money is likely not the most important factor to the QB.

As Curran wrote Friday:

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

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In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

In Tom Brady's case, are NFL tampering rules made to be broken?

If Robert Kraft ever commissioned a sculptor to carve “10 Patriots Commandments” you’d be sure to find, “Thou Shalt Not Tamper With Our Employees” somewhere on that stone tablet.

Throughout Kraft’s ownership and Bill Belichick’s stewardship of the football operations, loyalty has been rewarded and betrayal punished.

From January 1997, when the Jets were monkeying around with Bill Parcells when the Patriots were getting ready for Super Bowl 31 against the Packers, through June 2019, when the Texans made their overtures to Nick Caserio, the Patriots have made one thing very clear: they aren’t going to be patsies when it comes to other teams trying to lure their people away.

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Which brings us to Tom Brady. As everything does. Do the Patriots care that a stealth parade of suitors is probably all up on him already?

Is this uber-protective organization fine with half of the league’s teams sniffing under the tail of the most important player in franchise history before they’re supposed to?

Rampant tampering with prospective free agents isn’t the NFL’s dirty little secret.

It’s not dirty since it’s somewhat necessary.

It’s not little since every team does it.

And it’s not even treated as a secret.

This week, the estimable and honorable Tedy Bruschi was asked about Brady on ESPN.
 

“I think he’s gonna see what’s out there for himself,” said Bruschi. “Matter of fact, I know he will. But I don’t think he’s going to have to wait until March 16 because you’ve got agents, you’ve got talk going on behind the scenes and I think he has an idea on the teams that are highly interested in him ... He will explore his options and he has the right to do so.”

The question then becomes what’s the league office going to do about it?

We all know the NFL’s penchant for selective rules enforcement. We all know they’ll happily string the Patriots up for transgressions real or imagined and let them twist in the wind. We all know the so-called Spygate II investigation that could have been cleared up in 20 minutes is still ongoing.

So, even if everybody’s doing it, isn’t it a little (a lot) hypocritical for the league to turn a blind eye to teams crawling up the trellis to slip in Brady’s window after dark?

Yes, it is. But a little hypocrisy never slowed the league down from doing anything.

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Besides, they might say, tampering with Tom Brady is actually a victimless crime. It actually does the Patriots a favor.

If Brady and his agent Don Yee have a sense of what’s out there before they start negotiating with New England, then the need for Brady to go on a free-agent tour is eliminated.

If Team Brady has no clue, then Yee starts from scratch when the legal tampering period begins March 16 at noon. 

There’s no way to vet each of the opportunities -- a source close to the situation figures there will be 10 teams expressing interest -- before free agency starts March 18 at 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, how are the Patriots supposed to convince free-agent tight ends or wideouts to come aboard if those players don’t know whether or not Tom Brady will be a Patriot? It’s easily argued that outside teams tampering with Brady is in the Patriots’ best interests.

Besides, if this really isn’t about the money -- and I’ve been told often enough that it isn’t -- it won’t matter if some crap-ass team is offering $70 million over two years.

The persuasion in the Patriots pitch has to revolve around "who" and not "how much." The team that Brady plays for in 2020 won’t be the winner of a bidding war, it will be the one that provides the best ready-made landing spot to compete for a championship and have a shitload of fun while doing it.

All that said, it will still seem odd to me if the Patriots -- whether it be Kraft or Belichick -- don’t somehow have their sense of honor offended by all the predicted sneaking around.

It’s always offended their sensibilities going back to January 1997 when it came to light that Bill Parcells spent the week leading up to Super Bowl 31 ringing up the Jets from his New Orleans hotel room instead of getting the Patriots ready to play the Packers.

The Krafts were apoplectic. Belichick, an assistant on that 1996 Patriots team, was pissed too.

"Yeah, I'd say it was a little bit of a distraction all the way around," Belichick told our Michael Holley for Holley’s book Patriot Reign. "I can tell you first hand, there was a lot of stuff going on prior to the game. I mean, him talking to other teams. He was trying to make up his mind about what he was going to do. Which, honestly, I felt [was] totally inappropriate. How many chances do you get to play for the Super Bowl? Tell them to get back to you in a couple of days. I'm not saying it was disrespectful to me, but it was in terms of the overall commitment to the team."

Every situation’s different, I guess. In this case, the tampering rules were made to be broken.